Domestic Violence: Fighting for Change
By Laura Janota | From the Fall 2011 issue of Roosevelt Review
Undergraduate psychology major Ruby Nava is a survivor of domestic violence and Schaumburg campus provost Douglas Knerr is a believer in community engagement
Though they’ve known one another only for a short time, the two are working together so that Roosevelt’s Schaumburg campus community can have a positive impact on domestic violence, one of the most disturbing issues confronting the Northwest suburbs and beyond.
Knerr, who is committed to having the Schaumburg Campus make a difference in issues of importance to the community, established a partnership between the campus and the Northwest Suburban Alliance on Domestic Violence.
Nava, who comes to the issue through personal experience (see related story), is working with fellow students, faculty and alliance members to raise awareness about domestic violence and its impact.
“We are about advocating for violence prevention,” said Illinois state Senator Matt Murphy, who co-chairs the Northwest Suburban Alliance on Domestic Violence, a 10-year-old, notfor- profit whose members include social-service providers, counselors, police chiefs, lawyers, judges and others dealing with domestic violence cases and abuse survivors.
“Because of our partnership with Roosevelt University, we have been able to reach out to students and a large campus community about an issue that is a major societal concern,” said Murphy.
Reliable statistics on domestic violence in the suburbs aren’t easy to come by, in part because there has been no uniformity in how incidents are reported. It is an issue that police chiefs and court officers who are members of the alliance have been discussing, and a proposal for a uniform reporting method by all police departments in the Northwest suburbs is being considered. As a starting point for numbers of domestic violence incidents in the region, the alliance estimates there are more than 20,000 cases a year – a number that is based on the experience of a Cook County family court judge at the District 3 courthouse in Rolling Meadows, Ill.
“Many people think that this is an issue that is only for and about women, but in reality it affects families and children into the next generation, as well as our senior citizens,” said Rita Wiley, a founding member of the alliance and a legislative aide to state Rep. Sidney Mathias, who is also an alumnus of Roosevelt University.
For the past two years, the Northwest Suburban Alliance on Domestic Violence has held regular meetings at the Schaumburg Campus. In addition, Roosevelt students have engaged with the group and the issue, and were responsible for the planning and execution of an ambitious program held Oct. 27 on the Schaumburg Campus in conjunction with national Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Among highlights, the event featured a keynote address on domestic violence by Wendy Cohen, senior policy advisor on women’s issues to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan; exhibition of the Clothesline Project, featuring T-shirts made by survivors of domestic violence; skits involving domestic-violence scenarios; and a memorial celebration in which Nava told some of her own story, encouraging all in attendance to recognize and remember an abuse survivor.
“I am interested in doing as much as I can to advocate for better awareness on this issue,” said Nava, a senior who wants to be a domestic violence counselor after she graduates in the spring of 2012. She joined the alliance in December after a friend told her the group was considering partnering with Roosevelt.
“I remember going to the meeting and being introduced to Provost Knerr,” recalled Nava, who brought along fellow psychology major Katrina Smidt. During the meeting, the two publicly expressed a desire to get involved.
“I didn’t expect students to be at that meeting,” said Knerr. “But I remember their eloquence and passion – it was powerful. The students galvanized everyone who was in that room and we could all see that we were going to do important work.”
From that beginning, Smidt and Nava joined the alliance’s public awareness committee where they designed an insert to the group’s brochure that has been handed out at festivals, high schools and many community gatherings.
“It’s great to have students joining us. They have fresh ideas and a different way of looking at things,” said Laura Rutledge, a therapist with the not-for-profit Safe from the Start and community relations officer for the Northwest Suburban Alliance on Domestic Violence.
Rather than emphasizing the problem of domestic violence, Smidt and Nava worked with the committee, building on Mount Prospect Police Chief John Dahlburg’s suggestion, and creating a “Healthy Relationships” brochure that focuses on the importance of building positive, healthy relationships. “It is a different approach, and we’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback on their work,” said Rutledge.
In the meantime, Knerr asked Kristin Kinnaman, the student leadership affiliate to the provost’s office at the Schaumburg Campus, to join Smidt and Nava in planning the community event on domestic violence that was held at the campus this fall.
“Our campus is made up primarily of women and we know that one in four women in their lifetime will be involved in a relationship where domestic violence is present,” said Kinnaman. In addition, statistics show that one in every seven men will be victims of domestic violence at least once in their lives. “People know about domestic violence, but they don’t necessarily know what they can do about it, which is why we need to focus as a campus on this issue,” said Kinnaman.
Agnes Masnik, secretary of the Northwest Suburban Alliance on Domestic Violence, predicted the partnership with Roosevelt University would expand further in the future. “We’d like to work with professors to make domestic violence an issue that’s discussed in the classroom,” she said.